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I am currently in the second year of my PhD in the History Department, having completed an M.Phil in American Studies in 2014. My research concerns the experiences of male and female medical personnel who served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. My fascination with this topic began during my undergraduate degree, when I wrote a dissertation on the gendered experiences of the Vietnam War, from the perspective of the young women who served in the Army Nurse Corps.
Research and Teaching Interests
This project falls under the medical humanities category because of my focus in the lived experiences and memories of combat medical personnel, and also because of the specific medical context of the Vietnam War and the prevalence of ‘trauma’, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, in discourses on the Vietnam War.
My research interests include the nature of military medical training and how prepared medical staff were to deal with combat medicine. I’m also exploring the differences in the memories of those who were trained medical professionals before being assigned to duty in Vietnam, and those who were medically trained after enlisting.
The specific context of the Vietnam War is worth studying from a medical humanities perspective as the types of injuries and illnesses prevalent in the combat-zone were totally alien, even to seasoned medical professionals. Medical staff treated 303,704 Americans who were wounded as a result of enemy action. Their extraordinary contributions to the medical evacuation system in Vietnam meant that 82 percent of those wounded in action survived. Soldiers survived multiple horrific injuries, which would have proven fatal in all previous American conflicts.
However, the statistical data can disguise the troubling moral and ethical dilemmas doctors and nurses faced daily as a result. Medical personnel, usually nurses, were responsible for ‘triage,’ but in combat medicine the mission was to preserve the fighting force, and not individual lives. They were also responsible for saving the lives of patients who had been so horribly mutilated that doctors and nurses had to confront the harsh reality that some of these patients might have preferred death. I will be analysing the mental and emotional toll this work took on medical staff, and how they have engaged and identified with narratives of ‘trauma’ or ‘resilience’ when reflecting upon their post-war lives. I also want to identify whether there is a discernible link between the nature of medical work in Vietnam, and the manifestation of PTSD.
Lastly, the contribution of medical staff seems to have been erased from public memory, and often academic research, on the war. Therefore my research also seeks to answer questions about the cultural phenomenon of erasing medical staffs’ contribution to the war effort from American public memory. Firstly, why has this been the case? I am exploring both societal attitudes towards the war, Vietnam veterans and those who served in non-combatant roles. Secondly, how has this erasure influenced the way that medical veterans have utilised veterans’ physical and mental health services? I will be analysing whether former medical staff have identified as veterans, and whether policy makers, the military, and veterans’ organisations have been inclusive and accomodating to the needs of male and female medical veterans.
- College of Arts, School of Humanities